The Ultimate Texas Great Outdoors Road Trip

Texas has a whole lot of great outdoors to explore, and because of the size of Texas, you can see pretty much every type of environment possible. We've developed the ultimate Texas outdoors road trip, which includes every type of l from deserts to mountains to forests to rivers and beaches. So check it out, hikers! Grab your camping gear, your hiking boots and your swimsuit, then hop in your car and enjoy all the great outdoors Texas has to offer.

Leg 1: Palo Duro Canyon

Flickr/Sarah Richter
Flickr/Sarah Richter

Starting out at Texas's answer to the Grand Canyon, check out the beautiful scenery in Palo Duro Canyon and take advantage of the hiking, biking and equestrian trails, and sleep in one of the rim cabins to wake up to a breathtaking view.

From Palo Duro, head west to the Guadalupe Mountains. The road trip takes you shortly into New Mexico, so enjoy your brief foray into the lands West of the Lone Star State, and keep your eye out for New Mexico's famous poetic road signs warning drivers that "Gusty Winds May Exist". The drive will be about six hours, so be sure to start out early.

Leg 2: Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe_Peak_at_sunset_2006*NOTE* Most of the park is currently closed due to wildfire. Check conditions from the National Park Service before venturing to any park.

The Guadalupe Mountains are the only mountain range that reaches into Texas, and is home to Guadalupe Peak, the highest elevation in the lone star state. While in the national park, advanced hikers will not want to miss hiking to the summit of the peak. The 8.5 mile round trip hike is best taken over the course of two days to avoid exhaustion. There are camp grounds on the trail for weary hikers.

For less enthusiastic hikers, there's the Devil's Hall Trail, which is a 3.8-mile round trip hike that leads adventurers through a high walled canyon in the mountains.

From the Guadalupe Mountains, head southeast to Big Bend National park. The trip is nearly four hours, but well worth it.

Leg 3: Big Bend National Park

Flickr/David Fulmer
Flickr/David Fulmer

You could spend weeks in Big Bend, but for time's sake, choose a kayaking or canoeing trip down the Rio Grande through the picturesque Santa Elena Canyon, or those who are more fond of hiking, you can hike a 1.7-mile trail through the canyon down to the banks of the river. 

There are lots of campground options within the park, so be sure to get some stargazing in while you're there. Big Bend has been classified as an International Dark Sky park, so you should be able to see more stars than you're used to.

From Big Bend drive  southeast to Garner State Park in Concan.

Leg 4: Garner State Park

Flickr/Dave Hensley
Flickr/Dave Hensley

After all that hiking, you're probably dying for a river float, so head out to the Frio in Garner State Park in Concan, Texas. Garner is one of the best places in Texas to spend a hot summer day. You can rent a tube at the concession stand, and spend the day on the river. In the evening, if you're feeling social, attend one of the summer dances that take place nightly. Campgrounds and air-conditioned cabin rentals are plentiful, so take your pick and enjoy your stay on the Frio river!

From Garner you'll want to set out toward I-37 South for the coast. It is about a four-hour drive.

Leg 5: Padre Island National Seashore

Flickr/Amy the Nurse
Flickr/Amy the Nurse

No Texas outdoor road trip would be complete without visiting the 70 miles of unspoiled beach that is Padre Island National Seashore. The natural barrier island has a rich history and is still a vibrant ecosystem for many of Texas's native birds and ocean wildlife. Go see a sea turtle hatching (if you're lucky enough to be there on a day this occurs) or visit Laguna Madre for some incredible birding. Or simply spend the day relaxing in the sand and gentle gulf waves.

Once you've soaked up enough beach, start driving northeast to Big Thicket National Preserve.

Leg 6: Big Thicket National Preserve

Image via Texas Hiking
Image via Texas Hiking

Big Thicket is a great place for Texas outdoorsmen. You can kayak the Neches River, or go hiking through the tall pines of the forest. Try the Kirby nature trail's inner or outer loop to view the various ecosystems that make up the Big Thicket region. There are incredible birding opportunities in the area, and if you come in the fall, you can go hunting.

From Big Thicket, head north about three hours to Caddo Lake State Park.

Leg 7: Caddo Lake State Park


Rounding out our Texas outdoors road trip is a visit to Texas's one and only natural lake, Caddo Lake. The swampy waters of Caddo Lake sit near the border with Louisiana. Beautiful white bald cypress trees rise out of the water creating a surreal, magical feeling in the heavily canopied forest.

While visiting Caddo Lake, take advantage of the excellent fishing, or kayak Carter's Chute Paddling Trail. Stay on one of the campgrounds or in a cabin, just be sure to bring plenty of mosquito repellent.

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The Ultimate Texas Great Outdoors Road Trip